The day before the Rebecca Minkoff fashion show in September, makeup artist Gato Zamora and YouTube blogger Amanda Steele, 17, sat side by side examining Zamora’s work. He had transformed a model’s fair-with-some-redness complexion into glowing and even. The foundation was imperceptible. He applied a pinkish nude lipstick. Steele and Zamora leaned in, heads nearly touching. They agreed: A balm would be better. “Maybe she’ll look more like a teenager,” he said.
Steele started her YouTube channel when she was 10. She has since amassed nearly 3 million subscribers and 2.7 million Instagram followers with a mix of engaging beauty tutorials and lifestyle updates. Her style is relaxed and genuine, and she is undeniably talented at connecting with an audience by doing her own makeup.
“Maybelline asked if I’d be interested in working with them on some shows,” she said. “It’s exciting that they value my opinion.”
Zamora began his career in his early 20s, right around the time Steele was born. Maybelline thrust the two together to lead the makeup team for Rebecca Minkoff. The pairing was a first. Makeup at fashion shows is always a team sport, but never one with two head coaches.
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The Maybelline experiment comes at a time of tension in the makeup business. Some professionals who have followed a traditional path of assisting senior artists and building their portfolios over years, sometimes decades, are bristling at bloggers, YouTube stars and Instagram gurus who have taken more visible roads to success. But this shake-up in makeup goes beyond issues of taste and tenure. It’s about an industry being forced by technology to mature, one that is experiencing the frustration, fear and introspection characteristic of a major transition.
One area of criticism is the prevalence of “Instagram makeup.” The aesthetic is familiar: eyebrows constructed by powder, pencil and concealer; faces heavily contoured and highlighted. Social media makeup enthusiasts become facsimiles of one another – all some version of Kim Kardashian West.
Social media “absolutely perpetuates one aesthetic,” said Kevin James Bennett, a longtime makeup artist and advocate for his professional peers. “It’s like looking at a bunch of clones. They’re Botoxed, filled and surgeried to look like Kim. I love how they all say, ‘Just be you,’ when they all look the same. And they have legions of fans who follow them like Stepford Wives but who cannot afford to alter themselves the way these people do.”
Certainly there are talented self-taught artists on social media. And trends change. Kardashian West has moved toward a more natural makeup look. Nonetheless, “Instagram face” is representative of a bigger creative threat: waning individuality.
“It’s so rare in fashion today that people are eccentric,” said makeup artist Nick Barose, whose social media feeds are a mix of posts showing his work on celebrity clients (Lupita Nyong’o, Alicia Vikander, Jane Fonda) and tongue-in-cheek commentary on the industry. His outspoken online persona works; it’s helped him get big jobs. But, he added, “Social media can kill authenticity, especially the more followers you have.”
Nika Kislak, a professional makeup artist based in Moscow, is known for work that is both imaginative and elegant. She was the chief makeup artist for L’Oréal Paris, Russia for three years but came to international attention last spring when her work was reposted on Instagram by Pat McGrath, the doyenne of runway makeup artists. Her career marries old and new traditions.
“Instagram provides the opportunity to make your dreams come true faster and make money faster,” Kislak said. “I dreamt of this kind of freedom as a child. But as we know, freedom is not free.” She was referring to the toll that social media can take on creativity. “It was much easier for me as a beginning makeup artist 14 years ago, without Instagram, because no one influenced my sense of beauty,” she said.
In September, an E! News story deepened the fissure between the old and new schools when it reported that in the new world of celebrity hair and makeup, success is measured in selfies. The article placed tangible value on behind-the-scenes snaps that makeup artists take with their clients, alleging that some artists are accepting social media posts from models and actresses (either with the artist or tagging the artist) as payment for their glam-squad services.
“You have these new Insta-artists who are being picked up by publicists and agencies to work on their celebrities,” Bennett said. “So now that other artist who would have charged a fee for that job, his agent isn’t getting called. Some makeup artists have also lowered their rates to contend with the change in demand.”
Patrick Ta, an artist in Los Angeles with more than 570,000 Instagram followers, has been doing makeup for three years and works with models and actresses, including Gigi Hadid, Olivia Munn and Joan Smalls. He was called out by other makeup artists in the E! News story as being a selfies-for-pay artist.
“It’s definitely not true,” he said. “When I first moved to LA, I would do makeup on my friends who were bigger on Instagram. If they wanted their makeup done, I would do it. That was my way of creating photos for my digital portfolio. What’s the difference between that and an older artist doing test shoots for free for their portfolio?”
Another area of complaint is the lack of transparency in paid social media posts. YouTube and Instagram influencers – bloggers who are typically not professional artists – may share paid posts with their audiences with little or no notice that the content is sponsored.
“It has to be clear to the reasonable consumer that the content they’re viewing is an advertisement,” said Bonnie Patten, executive director of Truth in Advertising, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group. “It’s not enough to hide that info in the fine print.” In August, the organization filed a complaint with the Kardashian-Jenners for social media ads that looked like testimonials.
“Most of these companies are very sophisticated,” said Patten, who added that bloggers needed to be educated and required “to disclose the material connection.” The Federal Trade Commission has cracked down on sponsored posts in fashion, filing suit against Lord & Taylor for a 2015 campaign in which it paid 50 influencers to post about a sundress. So far, no complaints have been filed against beauty brands or makeup social media stars.
Beauty brands may soon look to a different type of influencer, one with a smaller, more dedicated following. “My team is paying attention to those people who have 10 to 100,000 followers,” said Robert DeBaker, the chief executive of Becca Cosmetics. “I’m interested in this person who has a point of view, and that’s probably not a point of view she’s being paid to have.”
This year, beauty video blogger Jaclyn Hill developed a wildly successful 11-piece Becca x Jaclyn Hill Champagne Collection with Becca Cosmetics. A shimmering powder highlighter sold 1 million units in a year for the niche brand, according to Robert DeBaker, chief executive of Becca Cosmetics, and became the best-selling highlighter in the country. (A few weeks ago, Estée Lauder signed an agreement to acquire the company.)
“How I see this rolling is that the brands that will be successful and the influencers who will be successful are those who keep the idea of authenticity,” DeBaker said. “That will be defined by being very transparent.”
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Explicit partnerships, like Maybelline’s fashion week collaboration with Amanda Steele, may be the future.
Backstage at the Rebecca Minkoff show, Steele was pressed by reporters. She discussed how the smoky shadow-liner look is perfect for her YouTube audience. In its undone sexiness, the makeup embodied the young girl on the go.
“I find it extremely normal that these worlds would be brought together,” Zamora said of the collaboration. “Makeup has never been so famous as it is now, and it’s because of these boys and girls, blogging in their houses. People love this, and the business has reacted.”
“Sometimes,” he added, “we think that just because you are not famous with social media, you aren’t succeeding. But this is just one tool. On social media you build your followers, but to build a career you must work.”